The Monument Quilt

On Saturday, March 1, one hundred red quilts containing survivors’ stories of rape and abuse were laid out in the lawn of the Capitol Building. This installation—called the Monument Quilt, aims to provide a public healing space for the survivors. The project was organized by FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, an art and feminist activist group based in Baltimore.

MonumentQuilt

The Monument Quilt is not the first quilt used to raise public awareness on an otherwise neglected issue. The AIDS Memorial Quilt was conceived in 1985 by gay rights activist Cleve Jones in response to the AIDS pandemic in the ’80s. The quilt memorialized those who died of the disease. The NAMES Project Foundation—Jones’s group, which organized the implementation of the project—mentions the importance of the medium of quilt-making. Its website states, “The Quilt has redefined the tradition of quilt-making in response to contemporary circumstances. A memorial, a tool for education and a work of art, the Quilt is a unique creation, an uncommon and uplifting response to the tragic loss of human life.” The NAMES Project Foundation’s inaugural display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt on the National Mall on October 11, 1987 was attended by half a million visitors. Since then, the quilt and its popularity have grown exponentially and it continues to be displayed around the country.

Following in the footsteps of the NAMES Project Foundation, FORCE aims to eventually install its own monumental quilt display on the National Mall. During the March 1st event, roughly 300 visitors viewed the quilts, but FORCE hopes to expand its reach. The group believes that the Monument Quilt will be the perfect vehicle for change, stating on its website that “[b]y stitching our stories together, we are creating and demanding public space to heal… We are creating a new culture where survivors are publicly supported, rather than publicly shamed.”

As a final display, after amassing quilt squares from survivors across the country, The Monument Quilt will be displayed over one mile of the National Mall to spell “NOT ALONE.” In the meantime, the website for the Monument Quilt has listed ways for interested participants to volunteer as well as instructions on how to submit a quilt square.

—Kyla Crisostomo is a publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Many of the quilts on view in “Workt by Hand” memorialize or make statements, like the Monument Quilt—come to NMWA to see them before April 27!

Controversial Representations of Sexuality in Feminist Art

Judy Chicago’s installation The Dinner Party premiered in San Francisco on March 1979. Soon after, it received backlash from the public because the recurring “butterfly” motif in Chicago’s dinner plates was viewed by many to have the appearance of female genitalia. A 1980 People Magazine article on the installation quoted the New York Times chief art critic, Hilton Kramer, describing the installation piece as “vulgar.” Chicago responded to this, saying, “If there is an affirmation of femaleness in my work, what’s wrong with that, given all the phallic imagery around?”

Virginia Woolf (test plate for The Dinner Party), 1978; Glazed porcelain, 14 in. diameter; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Elizabeth A. Sackler in honor of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and the 20th Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

Virginia Woolf (test plate for The Dinner Party), 1978; Glazed porcelain, 14 in. diameter; National Museum of Women in the Arts, Gift of Elizabeth A. Sackler in honor of Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and the 20th Anniversary of the National Museum of Women in the Arts

This is not the first time a feminist artist received criticism for depicting images of sexuality in her art. In 1972, Anita Steckel opened her solo exhibition The Feminist Art of Sexual Politics, at the Rockland Community College. Those who were concerned about the school’s public image criticized the artist for her illustrations of male genitalia. In fact, a 1972 New York Post article, “Artist Anita Wins a Battle Over Her Male Nude Show,” illustrated that the complaints drew attention to the double standard in art when it came to sexual representations of the body.

Anita Steckel, Just Waiting for the Bus, Photo-montage, 1969–70; Image courtesy of the Anita Steckel Estate

Anita Steckel, Just Waiting for the Bus, Photo-montage, 1969–70; Image courtesy of the Anita Steckel Estate

Steckel believed that it was unreasonable for people to consider male representation of female nudes as an acceptable practice in art, when, at the same time, they reject female representation of male nudes.

It is difficult to appease an indecisive public that—within the same decade—could not reach a consensus as to whether what bothers them more is the representation of female or male sexuality. But as Chicago and Steckel have shown in their refusal to censor their works, a feminist artist’s job is less about pleasing the public and more about provoking thought and discussion about issues of gender. As president of the Rockland Community College Dr. Seymour Eskow stated in response to Steckel’s exhibition, “If the purpose of the show was to raise consciousness…it succeeded.” Chicago also suggests that her art’s purpose is to inform rather than censor. She states, “I want to show how women’s experience can be a metaphor for human experience.”

Recently on view in NMWA’s recent exhibition Judy Chicago: Circa ’75, the artist’s Virginia Woolf test plate is a perfect example of her butterfly motif. Additionally, Equal Exposure: Anita Steckel’s Fight Against Censorship, currently on view in NMWA’s Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center, includes some artworks presented in Steckel’s 1972 exhibition, as well as archival documents and articles that surrounded the controversy.

—Kyla Crisostomo is a publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Behind-the-Scenes: NMWA Joins the Google Art Project

We were so excited about our March 8 launch on the Google Art Project! A great deal of work went into posting the 59 artworks from NMWA’s collection and the virtual museum tour (and it was a great way to celebrate International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month!). Here is an insider’s glimpse of the process along with some behind-the-scenes pictures:

Photography of NMWA’s Collection:

Google_Stalsworth_Photo_Shoot

Photographer Lee Stalsworth shooting NMWA’s collection; Photo credits: Laura Hoffman

For the Google Art Project, we photographed the selected artworks in extremely high resolution, since a unique facet of the project is its capability to showcase artworks online so that viewers are able to zoom in on hard-to-see details. While our preparator carefully unframed the pieces, art photographer Lee Stalsworth went to great lengths to capture the artworks perfectly, including using a new, state-of-the-art camera, testing the light and color balance with meters, and adjusting the photography environment with light reflectors.

Gigapixel Photo-shoot:

Google_Gigapixel

Google team captures “gigapixel” image (left), artwork detail (right); Photo credit: Laura Hoffman

Google photographed one of the artworks, Rachel Ruysch’s Roses, Convolvulus, Poppies, and Other Flowers in an Urn on a Stone Ledge (ca. 1680s), using “gigapixel” photo-capturing technology. The image contains around 7 billion pixels, enabling users to become immersed in the artwork’s details, even those that are invisible to the naked eye. Even the smallest movements, vibrations, or light can throw off the complicated process of capturing the “gigapixel” photograph. Zoom in for yourself on the artwork to find all the insects, flora, and grains of pollen!

Museum View Virtual Tour:

Google_Museum_View_Shoot

Google team moving through the museum with the “trolley;” Photo credits: Laura Hoffman

NMWA staff also worked with a team at Google to create a virtual tour of the museum, called the Museum View. This feature allows people to explore our galleries online, select artworks that interest them, click to discover more, and dive into high-resolution images, where available. Google’s specially-designed Street View “trolley” took 360-degree images of selected galleries, which were then digitally stitched together to create smooth navigation within the museum.

We hope you enjoy our work in the Google Art Project—stay tuned as we add more artworks and galleries to the Google Art Project in the future!

—Laura Hoffman is the digital media specialist at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Including the Excluded: NMWA’s Wikipedia Edit-a-thon

The internet has become one of the most readily used resources for answers to myriad questions. A quick Google keyword search will often land a Wikipedia link for inquiring minds to find out more. In fact, let’s do a quick experiment. Pull up another window of your browser of choice. Visit Google and type in “Joan Semmel”—a notable feminist artist who works primarily with erotic self-portraits. After her artist site and gallery, one of the top links is her Wikipedia page. However, just more than a month ago that page did not exist. It was created here, at NMWA, with NMWA resources and by volunteers with a strong desire to ensure that as digital history is (re)written it includes women’s contributions.

“Wikipedia is often the first stop for people doing any research on the web, so it’s extremely important to have good articles written with reliable materials from our museum’s library to ensure these artists are included in this international digital encyclopedia,” said Heather Slania, director of the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center at NMWA. “Many of the women artists featured on Wikipedia have incomplete or unverified articles. For those without articles at all, like Semmel, it is about creating and increasing an online presence for their work and contributions in a history that has conveniently left them out.”

Semmel’s Wikipedia page was one of 101 articles created for women artists at last month’s Art + Feminism Wikipedia Edit-a-thon. NMWA was one of 31 venues in six countries participating in this global initiative dedicated to creating a more gender-balanced Wikipedia. In all, nearly 20 individuals attended the edit-a-thon at NMWA, creating 10 new articles and expanding upon an additional 11 articles.

“Part of our mission at the library is to facilitate knowledge creation about the history and achievements of women artists worldwide. These significant contributions to Wikipedia’s postings help fulfill those goals while also furthering knowledge about women artists,” Slania said.

At the 2014 Feminism and Arts Edit-a-thon, DC Wikimedians at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center; Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

At the 2014 Feminism and Arts Edit-a-thon, DC Wikimedians at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in the Betty Boyd Dettre Library and Research Center; Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The gender bias in Wikipedia’s male-dominated articles and editors has been acknowledged after several studies, and recent articles suggest that 90 percent of the website’s editors are male. As more people turn to Wikipedia for information, these edit-a-thons help shrink the gender gap, but there are still issues to be addressed.

As Slania notes, “Part of the problem with Wikipedia relates to notability. Posts on individuals require a certain level of celebrity, which a good deal of women artists have traditionally been denied. Women were excluded from art shows and text books and their achievements were not recorded. How do you include someone who has been excluded?”

The next Wikipedia Edit-a-thon at NMWA will be on March 30, 2014. Interested participants should register in advance, and editors at all levels of expertise are encouraged to participate—from first-time Wikipedia editors to published art historians. Visit our website for more information. Or, just Google us.

—J. Rachel Gustafson is a curatorial intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Common Threads: Staff Quilt Stories

In honor of National Quilting Month and NMWA’s current exhibition “Workt by Hand”: Hidden Labor and Historical Quilts, NMWA staff members share their quilt stories and memories:

“I didn’t know there were quilters in my family until after ‘Workt by Hand’ opened. I mentioned to my mother that it felt strange not having a quilt story, and that’s when I learned that my great-grandmother, Rossie Webber, was an award-winning quilter. Her double wedding ring quilt won first prize at the Cleveland County Fair in North Carolina, ca. 1941.”—Ashley, Assistant Educator

Ashley's quilt (left) and Stephanie's (right)

Ashley’s quilt (left) and Stephanie’s (right)

“My aunt took up quilting when she and her husband bought a farm in Indiana. She had no ties to the area but figured quilting would be a good way to assimilate into ‘farm life.’ She made quilts for me and each of my sisters to mark our 16th birthdays, customizing them to our individual tastes. Knowing nothing about quilts then, I was so impressed with my aunt’s quilt when I received it with its multi-colored patches in a seemingly random array of mismatched pieces. Now having seen Workt By Hand’, I can attribute my quilt to taking after the Crazy Quilt genre. It’s crazy and bright, and I love it.” —Stephanie, Curatorial Assistant

AIDS Memorial Quilt; Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

AIDS Memorial Quilt; Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

“The most memorable quilt to me is the AIDS Memorial Quilt. Not only has the quilt been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but it is also the largest community art project in the world and has been traveling the globe since its inaugural display in Washington, D.C., in 1987. Today, the quilt in its entirety includes over 48,000 individual three-by-six-foot memorial panels, most of which commemorate the life of someone who has died of AIDS.”—Gordon, Director of Operations

Quilts that Laura received for her Bat Mitzvah (left) and at birth

Laura’s quilts from Kathy

“A family friend, Kathy, made my sister and me quilts for major milestones in our life (birth, Bat Mitzvah, etc.) Each quilt was specific to both the person and the occasion, and they were always inscribed, ‘Love, Kathy.’ They are among the few gifts I distinctly remember receiving, and I have cherished them over the years. Though Kathy passed away this year, I still sleep under her quilt when I visit home, and I feel connected to her.”—Laura, Digital Media Specialist

Ginny's family quilt

Ginny’s family quilt

“My mother’s quilt, which currently lives in my office in honor of the ‘Workt by Hand’ exhibition, came from my great-great Aunt Fanny and Uncle Bob Thompson who lived in McHenry, Illinois. We think it dates from the 1920s, and it was most likely part of her wedding trousseau. I believe my grandmother received the quilt after Uncle Bob passed away in the 1980s.”—Ginny, Associate Curator

Do you have a quilt story to share? Add it to the comments section below, or comment on NMWA’s other social media sites—thank you!

Lending Color to Quilts

In Clues in the Calico: A Guide to Identifying and Dating Antique Quilts, Barbara Brackman discusses the ways in which certain characteristics of a quilt can disclose important information on its origins and the time is was made. In addition to dating quilts through their style and patterns, she also dates them in a more scientific way through their dyestuff.

Pictorial Quilt, ca. 1840; Cotton and cotton thread, 67 ¾ x 85 ½ in.; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Franklin Chace, 44.173.1; Photography by Gavin Ashworth, 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Pictorial Quilt, ca. 1840; Cotton and cotton thread, 67 ¾ x 85 ½ in.; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Mrs. Franklin Chace, 44.173.1; Photography by Gavin Ashworth, 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

The book talks about two types of dyes: natural dyes and synthetic dyes. Natural dyes are extracted from natural substances such as animals, plants, and minerals, and generally need the help of a substance, called a mordant, that allows the color of the dye to adhere to the actual fabric. On the other hand, synthetic dyes are human-manufactured and came into prominence in last half of the 19th century. At the time, most of them were imported from Germany, which held internationally-honored patents for their dyes. It was not until after World War I (when the German patents were awarded to Americans) that the American dye industry began to thrive.

Brackman illustrates that both natural and early synthetic dyes were difficult to work with. Often, the dyes were not as colorfast as quilters would have liked, and they would slowly begin to fade. This made conservation difficult, especially if the maker intended to pass a quilt on to future generations. To add to this, many types of dye, especially ones with iron or tin mordants, can deteriorate the fabric itself, again causing problems for conservation.

Star of Bethlehem Quilt, ca. 1830; Cotton, 95 x 95 ½ in.; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Alice Bauer Frankenberg; 59.151.7; Photography by Gavin Ashworth, 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Star of Bethlehem Quilt, ca. 1830; Cotton, 95 x 95 ½ in.; Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Alice Bauer Frankenberg; 59.151.7; Photography by Gavin Ashworth, 2012, courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum

Until the first half of the 19th century, green dye was specifically difficult to both produce and manage. Many quilters had to perform a painstaking double-dyeing process that consisted of first dyeing the fabric yellow and then dyeing it again with indigo or Prussian blue, or vice versa. The final product was a vivid green color many quilters referred to as “poison green.” According to Brackman, single-process synthetic dyes came after 1860 and were able to provide quilters with a much simpler process. However, many of these later synthetic dyes were not as colorfast, especially when exposed to light, and ended up fading to beige.

Although the color of a quilt can play a major role in its aesthetic value, not many people realize how useful the condition of the dye really is to justifying the historical significance of a quilt. Changes in the process of dyeing fabrics and the ingredients used in dyestuff parallel the chemical and technological advancements of the time. These facts can not only help date a quilt, but can also help in informing the quilt’s conservation.

—Kyla Crisostomo is the publications and marketing/communications intern at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

To learn more about quilts, as well as the people who created them and the ways society saw them, visit “Workt by Hand” at NMWA, on view through April 27!

Women in Arts Leadership—Who’s Counting?

On the heels of a recent Washington Post article that lauded the impressive number of women museum directors in the D.C. area (including NMWA’s Susan Fisher Sterling), the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) released a new report discussing the persistent gender gap in museum leadership.

AAMD-reportSpecifically, although the AAMD report, based on a survey of members, noted that great progress has been made—women held 42.6% of director positions at the museums surveyed, a significant increase over previous years—large discrepancies remain in certain areas. In large museums (those with annual budgets over $15 million) women make up 24% of directors, and only five of 33 museums with budgets over $20 million have women directors.

Viewed through salary, the data tell a similar story of pervasive disparity, particularly at large museums. Overall, “female art museum directors earn 79 cents for every dollar earned by male art museum directors,” according to the AAMD. At small-to-midsize museums with budgets under $15 million, compensation seemed comparable between genders, with women slightly out-earning men, at $1.02 to each dollar earned by male directors. At museums with budgets over $15 million, however, women earned just 71 cents for each dollar earned by male directors.

The AAMD report dug in further, noting that salary differences correlated with the jobs that directors had held previously, and whether they were hired from an external search or promoted from within an institution. (Men were more likely than women to have been directors previously and to have been hired from outside, both factors connected to higher salaries.) In a New York Times article that summarized the report, several women directors commented on their individual experiences, and consultants shared intriguing perspectives on searching for and hiring museum directors.

As the AAMD says, “The art within our great museums reflects and shapes our culture…. [Museum directors] have an unrivalled platform to influence the role that art plays in our society.” The group advocates increasing diversity—in gender as well as race and ethnicity, which were not addressed in detail in this report—to ensure that a greater array of stories are told through museums’ art, programs, and communities.

But . . . what about that great Washington Post article, and all the women directors in the spotlight?

It seems like D.C.’s climate is indeed one to celebrate, but there is still progress to be made.

Download the full AAMD report here.